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Your Dog's Destructive Chewing Habit

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Dogs, especially puppies, explore their environment by sniffing, tasting, and often chewing on objects throughout the home. Dogs that chew may also be scavenging for food (as in garbage raiding), playing (chewing apart a book or pillow), teething (puppies 3-6 months old), or satisfying a natural canine urge to chew and gnaw (which may serve to help keep teeth and gums healthy).  Some dogs chew because they receive attention (even if it is negative) or treats from the owners each time they chew; in other words, the owners are inadvertently rewarding the behavior.  Chewing and destructive behaviors can also be a response to anxiety. Dogs that are confined in areas where they are insecure may dig and chew in an attempt to escape.  Dogs that are excited, anxious, or in a state of conflict, such as separation anxiety, may turn to chewing and other forms of destructiveness as an outlet.


Stopping a dog from undesirable chewing starts with finding the reason for the behavior.  One of the best ways to determine why the dog is chewing and how the behavior might be resolved is to keep a diary of the dog’s daily activities that includes when and where the dogs is chewing, what happened immediately before the chewing started, and what family members do when they catch the dog chewing.  Although the goal of treatment is to stop undesirable chewing, the focus should be on providing a positive, “enriched” environment for the dog that includes acceptable outlets and rewards for desirable behavior.


Enriching the dog’s environment means that the dog has sufficient social interaction, play, and exercise.  The chewing must be directed toward appealing alternatives, while ensuring that it is not being inadvertently rewarded.  Simply ignoring the dog or indirectly interrupting the chewing (eg, by starting an obedience routine) may be useful for some dogs.  Dogs that raid garbage or steal food need to be treated by supervision, and garbage and food must be kept inaccessible.  Dogs that are destructive when trying to escape from confinement need to learn to become comfortable and secure with the crate or room in which they are confined.  Alternatively, a new confinement area may have to be chosen.  Dogs that are destructive because of anxiety need to have the cause of the anxiety diagnosed, and the problem appropriately treated.


To ensure that your puppy is encouraged and rewarded for chewing on its own toys, as well as discouraged from chewing on all other objects, it must be supervised at all times.  Whenever you cannot supervise or monitor your dog’s behavior, your puppy should be confined to a crate or “dog-proof” room.


If chewing continues, the underlying reason may not have been accurately determined, and the reasons for chewing should be reevaluated.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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